I knew I had to find out more about Ostwald Helgason when I saw Solange Knowles perform in Toronto this winter. She was wearing a blousy silk jumper in a diagonally striped print and a matching mini skirt by the mouthful-of-a-label. It wasn’t just that a pop star had picked their clothes, but also that the outfit was so instantly identifiable as theirs.
The story of new-ish Ostwald Helgason is a lesson in what’s possible in today’s style industry. The speed at which they’ve become a name on the tip of every informed tongue is evidence of a globally enabled, visually aided word of mouth. Welcome to the brand new fashion world.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of the label, here’s a quick primer. Designer duo—and IRL couple— Susanne Ostwald and Ingvar Helgason (from Germany and Iceland, respectively) founded their company in 2008, quietly and without any experience in running their own business. Ostwald is the intuitive talent of the two, with a background in fine arts, while Helgason keeps one hand in the creative side and another in production and business. It’s a delicate balance. “Working together can be very dramatic,” says Helgason, laughing, over the phone from their studio in London. “There is obviously a lot of fighting, but it always turns out.”
The learning curve has been steep. “We started out with a lot of sweaters and then moved into a more experimental, higher price point and found that that wasn’t really good for us,” says Helgason of their return to luxe-inflected sportswear. “It’s been an absolute evolution.” One that led to their clean-silhouette, graphic-print signature. The break came with their Fall 2012 presentation—their first in New York. Evelien Joos cast the show, and her sister, street-style star Natalie, attended. “She saw an outfit that she really liked and asked if she could wear it for Paris [Fashion Week],” the designer recounts. “She wore it to the Chanel show. [Miroslava] Duma spoke to her and the next day I have an email asking if she can see our stuff. She bought some things, and then her friend Anya [Ziourova] comes and so on. That’s how it began.”
Ostwald Helgason may well be the first actual label to blow up through the street-style lens. “These girls pull off clothes amazingly,” Helgason coos. Meanwhile, with endless online galleries, a select few customers quickly become many.